In recent years, Dallas-based Atmos Energy has raised its gas utility rates while still earning millions more than a state cap allows.
Atmos earned above the allowable level in 2013 and 2015, too, and both times the Railroad Commission, which regulates gas utilities, allowed the company to raise rates with few questions asked.
A state statute in Texas allows monopoly gas utilities to exceed their allowed rates of return by less than one percent. The Railroad Commission, which also regulates oil and gas, has determined that state law does not allow it to contest or probe a gas utilities earnings when it asks for an interim rate increase, an expedited process that skips an exhaustive rate case. Gas utilities are only required to undergo a full rate case every five years.
In 2013, the commission approved a rate increase for Atmos customers when the company over earned by around $4 million. Then, in 2015, the commission approved another rate increase when the company had over earned by about $1.6 million.
A spokeswoman for Atmos said the company followed state statute, which allows over earning.
The commission has also often granted rate increases for CenterPoint Energy, which serves Houston, even when the company was over earning by hundreds of thousands of dollars. For the company’s 1 million Houston-area customers, the result has been a steady uptick in the cost of natural gas delivery, which has cut into savings from the lowest natural gas prices in nearly two decades.